Dappula De Livera had an ignominious exit as Sri Lanka’s Attorney General on Friday (21) when his case against gun-runner Nissanka Senadhipathi and seven others fell flat and all defendants were acquitted by the Special Permanent High Court at Bar in Colombo.
AG De Livera indicted Senadhipathi and six others on 7573 counts for illegal possession of 816 firearms aboard the MV Avant Garde. The 7573 indictments are among the 27,000 indictments De Livera said he had filed during his tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the state.
But soon after the indictments were filed, the Permanent High Court at Bar ruled that only 19 counts could be heard at trial.
Senadhipathi is a key player in the Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime and a major financier of the ruling party. Since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President, Senadhipathi – still a criminal indicted by the Attorney General and out on bail – and his company Avant Garde were handpicked for ad hoc government contracts. Since Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election, Senadhipathi was given thousands of acres of land for a maize growing project, and Avant Garde collaborated with the Justice Ministry to “rehabilitate prison inmates”. Avant Garde also became the sole agent of the Government’s repatriation racket for Sri Lankans overseas during the Covid-19 airport shutdown. All Sri Lankan embassies were authorized to register citizens for travel on the basis that their tickets were purchased and hotel accommodations were made through Avant Garde. The tickets were often exorbitantly priced.
With his acquittal in the criminal case, Senadhipathi is now free to engage in the business of government with even more fervour.
The case was taken up before the Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar bench comprising High Court Judges Adithya Patabendi, Manjula Thilakarathne and Mahen Weeraman.
The verdict was unanimous that the AG had failed to prove that Senadhipathi was in possession of weapons without a valid licence. The three judge bench ruled that the ship had appeared to have a valid license to possess firearms and ammunition, and the plaintiff had failed to prove the document was a forgery.
Accordingly, the three-judge panel ruled that the ship appeared to have a valid license to possess firearms and ammunition and that the plaintiff had failed to prove that the license was a forgery.
High Court Judge Aditya Patabendige said the prosecution should have been “more careful” in prosecuting the arsenal, because it had been “established on a policy decision by the Government.”
Senior State Counsel Janaka Bandara, Attorney-at-Law Shakthi Jagoda Arachchi and Attorney-at-Law Akila Dalpadadu appeared for the Attorney General.
President’s Counsel Sampath Mendis, President’s Counsel Kuvera de Zoysa, President’s Counsel Ajith Pathirana, Senior Counsel Gamini Alwis, Attorney-at-Law Sanjaya Ariyadasa, Attorney-at-Law Asela Serasinghe, Attorney-at-Law Iresh Seneviratne and Attorney-at-Law Harith Hettiarachchi appeared for the defence.(By Chinthika De Silva)